It has only been two years since Ford introduced the current generation of the Taurus sedan, yet the car is already receiving a thorough makeover. That's early for a refresh in the auto industry, but Taurus sales were down last year (when overall car sales were up), so it may have been prudent for Ford to accelerate the normal timetable. Thus, the 2013 Taurus is arriving early, bringing with it a wide range of upgrades.
The main change is a facelift that brings the 2013 Taurus in line with the latest Ford family design cues. A wider front grille, narrower headlights, and a restyled hood with a larger bulge make the car's nose resemble those of the 2013 Mustang and Fusion. The rear of the car is upgraded with LED taillights, new fenders, and a redesigned trunk lid. The bright trapezoid-shaped LED taillight rings give the new Taurus a distinctive appearance from behind in the dark.
The carryover 3.5-liter V-6 engine gains variable valve timing, bumping output by 25 hp and 5 lb-ft of torque to 288 hp and 254 lb-ft. Fuel economy improves to 19/29 mpg (city/highway) with front-wheel drive, and 18/26 mpg with the available all-wheel drive. In the hills outside Portland, Oregon, we found the V-6 engine plenty powerful. It's hard to tell whether the 25 hp bump makes a noticeable performance difference, but the revised engine is smooth and responsive across the rev range, and acceleration should be more than acceptable for the majority of Taurus customers.
Ford will launch a second engine for the Taurus in late spring. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged inline-four will produce 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, and should return 31 mpg on the highway. Unfortunately, we won't get the chance to drive a Taurus with that engine until later this year.
All models of the 2013 Taurus adopt electric power steering, which helps save fuel compared to the prior hydraulic-assist system. (It also is necessary for the Active Park Assist self-park feature.) The new steering doesn't feel as numb and artificial as in some other cars with electric assist, although the overall level of feedback is minimal. Still, the steering is both responsive enough that we felt confident on snowy and icy back roads, and light enough that we had no trouble navigating through Portland's bustling downtown.
To help combat a reputation for middling braking performance, all 2013 models of the Taurus receive a larger master cylinder and a redesigned brake booster. The result is that the brakes are strong but very easy to modulate, and there is less pedal travel. Ford says the overall goal was to make the brakes feel more responsive and more consistent.
Revised InteriorInterior changes begin with improved soft-touch materials for the dashboard and center stack. The Taurus has an updated version of the much-criticized MyFord Touch. The interface has been reprogrammed to be easier to use. The menus on the eight-inch screen are now clearer and more responsive, and many of the virtual controls have been relocated. Information is now presented more clearly, and the system proved both responsive and reliable in our brief test.
Another important change is the addition of sound deadening material to the front shock towers, A-pillars, and rear wheel-well liners. Ford says that the Taurus V-6 is now 10 percent quieter than the 2012 model--and the go-fast Taurus SHO is a claimed 15 percent quieter. While the cabin does indeed keep road and wind noise to a minimum, the Taurus still isn't quite as quiet as a luxury car.
New technologies for 2013 include Curve Control, which automatically applies the brakes if the car is entering a sharp turn too quickly; Active Park Assist, which can automatically parallel-park the car in as little as 25 seconds; and a toggle for manual gear changes on the automatic transmission shifter. Finally, Torque Vectoring Control becomes standard on all Taurus models; it can selectively apply one of the front brakes to help mitigate understeer when accelerating and turning.
SHO Me The PowerThe 2013 refresh did not neglect the Taurus SHO performance variant, which benefits from the same set of visual tweaks as other models of the sedan. Buyers had previously said they wanted the SHO to stand out more from its plebian siblings, so the 2013 car gets a unique black mesh grille and new wheels.
The drivetrain is a carryover twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine that sends 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. It's no surprise that the Taurus SHO is a fast car that is huge fun to open up. The twin-turbo V-6 builds torque almost as soon as you mash the throttle, and pulls strongly at all speeds. Incidentally, Ford says the car most commonly cross-shopped with the Taurus SHO is the BMW 5-series.
What's more surprising is how well the car's chassis copes with the straight-line performance. Both the front and rear brake rotors are larger for 2013, which in tandem with a new booster and master cylinder provided strong, fade-free deceleration no matter how many times we braked hard for a sharp turn. The electric power steering is tuned for a sportier feel than regular Taurus models; it has a quick ratio and transmits a surprising amount of feedback, and it made the SHO truly enjoyable to drive aggressively through the hilly two-lane roads of rural Oregon. The steering rack is now hard-mounted to the car's front subframe, improving feel and precision.
There also is a new SHO Performance Package that bundles 20-inch wheels with summer performance tires, unique brake pads, a shorter final drive ratio, and the ability to fully disable the stability control system. The suspension dampers are more aggressive and the rear springs are firmer, which Ford says improves turn-in and dynamic response to match the performance tires, although we didn't have a chance to sample a car so equipped.
Freshness CountsFord says there are three million Tauruses on American roads, and while the model is no longer America's (or even Ford's) bestselling car, the company certainly doesn't want to neglect it. While the changes for the 2013 Ford Taurus are not revolutionary, they do improve the car's driving dynamics, update its interior, and freshen its appearance. All of which should help keep the Ford Taurus from becoming stale in the minds of consumers.
Specs:2013 Ford Taurus SEL AWD
On sale: Now
Base price: $30,650 (including $795 destination charge)
Price as tested: $35,735
Engine: 3.5L V-6, 288 hp, 254 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
2013 Ford Taurus SHO
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $39,200 (including $795 destination charge)
Price as tested: $45,680
Engine: 3.5L turbocharged V-6, 365 hp, 350 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic